By Ian Graham
Last week, Marine Staff Sgt. Brian Buckwalter, American Forces Press Service reporter Jim Garamone and I sat down with Price Floyd, the the principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, to talk about the future of social media in the Department of Defense.
As we were making introductions, he looked at me, dressed less-than-formally and the only one in the room whose hair was longer than a half-inch or so, and proceeded to make fun of me. It was good-natured (and well-deserved, plus he’s a funny guy, so he gets a lot of credit for that), but I have this nagging feeling that I’ll never live down the day I met the big boss and I didn’t have my shirt tucked in. Perfect. I’ll forever be “the blogger with the untucked shirt.”
But I digress.
At this point, it’s fairly obvious where Floyd stands on the issue of social networking. He’s been dubbed the Pentagon’s social media “czar,” advocating a push in the military and government to use social networks to engage the American people. His goal is to give people a voice in defense policy — rather than continue to make the Department of Defense’s web presence an outlet for internal press, he wants to make it a place where citizens and department officials can interact.
He’s also been going against the traditional public affairs modus operandi by encouraging leaders to venture out into social media. Rather than the standard high-alert caution most public affairs officers cling to, Floyd wants to see people trying new social outlets. If there’s a problem, he says, learn from it and don’t repeat it — but don’t be afraid to make the mistake.
In the wake of reports that the U.S. Marine Corps was blocking its troops from social networks such as MySpace, Facebook and Twitter, Floyd has had to play a dual role, both continuing to encourage use of social media in public affairs but also adhering to guidance released by U.S. Strategic Command.
Their guidance, which was the first in a chain of reactions that led to the Marine Corps recent publicity, has led to a month-long (and much-needed) Defense Department study to assess the risks and benefits of using social networking in military public affairs. The end result will be a department-wide policy on the use of social networks, which should be released next month.
What Floyd wants to see come from this is a balanced plan, allowing for the use of social media while also considering security concerns, both in terms of networks and OPSEC. Considering Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen’s affinity for tools like Facebook and YouTube in their own public affairs offices, that shouldn’t be a hard balance to find.
The new Department of Defense Web site is simply the start. The freshly minted Defense.gov takes a cue from the White House’s Web site, incorporating social media tools and using language that reminds people they are a part of the Department of Defense, too. Different forums for feedback will be available, allowing Average Joe to ask questions of Gates, Mullen, or other military leaders.
Floyd’s vision goes far beyond the “celebrities” of the department having a presence on one new Web site.
He sees a Defense Department filled with millions of potential tweeters, giving the military an organic, personable face. When people think about talking to someone in the Pentagon, they won’t be penetrating a fortress, they’ll be having a chat with a Facebook friend.
By having that kind of openness, he explained, the American people can feel like they have a part in defense policy. After all, our government requires feedback to work; transparency simply can’t work if the people who needto comment feel like the Department of Defense is unapproachable or even scary.
While it’s helpful in combat to be able to strike fear into the hearts of our enemies, it’s a much less admirable goal to keep American citizens at bay. Hopefully some of the plans in Floyd’s head will help break down those barriers.
After all, we all own the Department of Defense, we should all feel like we can throw in our two cents, agreeable or otherwise.
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